Even though she’s small, she’s as tough as grit. Even though she’s pretty, she’s as determined as can be. Even though she’s a girl, she can do anything anyone else can do.
I grew up wearing pink, and I still do so today. I did gymnastics, dance and cheering. I played with dolls, had tea parties and liked to dress up like a Disney Princess. My dad and older brother went hunting. I saw many deer, moose, elk and game birds come home with them. I enjoyed hearing the stories of the hunt and enjoyed eating the bounty of successful harvests. Even though I liked doing “girl things,” I kept thinking about going hunting! For me, it was never a question that I would also go hunting once I was old enough.
When I told my extended family, friends and classmates that I was going hunting, they were surprised to hear that. Some thought I should stay home with my mom when the boys went hunting, as they did. Others simply figured there was no way I would like to go hunting since it involved getting up early, spending all day outside and dealing with downed animals. Others wondered how I would be able to handle the recoil from a gun.
I would smile and tell these folks that my mind was made up and that I was going hunting. For added fun, I’d point out that it is the lioness that does the majority of hunting for a pride of lions. That would help them think that hunting isn’t just for boys.
In the DNA
From the time I was a young girl, I had an inner desire to go hunting. Hunting was in my DNA. It was something I wanted to do. I decided I didn’t care what people thought; it didn’t matter. I was going hunting. I was going to have fun going hunting. And I was going to be good at it.
I have been hunting now for several years. When I’m out in the field, I am treated with nothing but respect by fellow hunters, landowners and conservation officers. I have always been treated with the mutual respect that all hunters deserve.
I find that the hunting community is like a big club. Once you prove yourself as a successful and avid hunter, you are a part of the club, and you are accepted into the group. Being a female hunter, I found at times that I had to try a bit harder than my male counterparts to prove myself. At times, it felt that there was a perception that my skills and abilities were lower when afield as compared to male hunters. However, others could quickly see I was a hunter with equal skills based on my adventures, shooting skills, field photos, knowledge of ballistics and cartridges and how to score and field-judge animals.
Some Are Shocked
Those outside the hunting community will often tell me they are shocked that I go hunting, or that I am able to do “that.” I used to brush it off and think that this attitude must be because no one in their family hunts. As I got older, I started to notice that when my brother or any other male hunters I knew would tell people that they hunt, the reaction was never quite the same. This got me wondering why that was the case, and how can I change the way people both inside and outside the hunting community regard female hunters. Luckily, there were numerous female hunters known worldwide who already had paved the path for women in hunting and were role models. I could look up to women such as Eva Shockey, Heather Wilson and Melissa Bachman, to name a few.
When I first started hunting, I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. That wasn’t because my parents couldn’t afford to get me my own hunting clothes, but because no one made youth-girl hunting clothes. I found that the jackets would often be too big in the shoulders and way too long. The pants would be loose in the front, tight in the back and also too long. I knew hunting wasn’t a fashion show, so at the time, I made the most of the situation. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I was able to find a good pair of women’s hunting pants and a jacket. They were made for women by Rocky Boots, and I quickly discovered how comfortable these women’s hunting clothes were.
Since I started hunting, the clothing industry has greatly improved its women’s hunting clothing lines, now offering a variety of options. Yet, when I go into any sporting goods store, the ratio of men’s hunting clothes is much greater than that of women’s. I hope one day that is more equal. Until then, I will continue to shop in both the women’s and men’s hunting clothes sections to try to get the best gear out there so I can perform my best while in the field.
When it comes to hunting boots, it has always been a challenge to find boots that fit right, are warm enough to keep my feet warm when it is -40 ̊Celsius in late November, and still provide the mobility I need. From talking with other female hunters, I am not the only one who struggles with this. I do have a good pair of women’s hunting boots, but I also have a few good pairs of men’s hunting boots. Even though they are a couple of sizes too big, they do the trick.
Another challenge I have found is finding a gun that is the right size. Most women are smaller than men generally, so most require a firearm that has a smaller stock and is lighter weight than most standard firearms. This leaves there is less of a selection for women, or else the need to have a gun stock cut down or customized for a smaller body. Another limiting factor for me is that I shoot left-handed, and that further restricts my options.
In addition to needing a smaller gun, I also find that a smaller-handled knife works best when I’m field dressing, since my hands are smaller than most men’s hands. Some of my favorite knives are the Outdoor Edge Razor Lite 3.0 Knife and the Havalon Piranta Edge Knife. Both have small, thin handles with replaceable blades. That aspect ensures that I always have a sharp knife that is comfortable to use while field dressing.
I often find that many people question women’s and girls’ ability to be quiet when afield to ensure the hunt isn’t interrupted. I’m a woman who not only talks a lot but likes to talk. I’ve been bugged many times with others’ comments about how I could possibly stay quiet when sitting in a blind waiting for animals to approach, or while stalking in on a critter. Even though I like to talk, that doesn’t mean that I don’t know when to be quiet to increase my chances of a successful hunt. I simply go into hunt mode, concentrate on the hunt and whisper only when required.
During my early years when afield, I occasionally found that the expectation of me was lower than anyone else in our hunting group, when it came to walking long distances, being out in the cold, stalking in or pushing bush. This was partially due to my age, but that wasn’t the full story. My counterparts worried that I would get tired too fast or wouldn’t be able to keep up. Instead of getting upset or angry that they felt I wasn’t capable, I have always chosen the high road and just proved them wrong. Even though I have shorter legs and take smaller steps, my drive to succeed kicks in, and I’m able to keep up with my hunting partners.
One instance where I proved that being a girl was no disadvantage was when I had to belly crawl half a mile to stalk in on deer to ensure that I wouldn’t be spotted. Another time, I sat out in the freezing cold with the wind blowing in my face without complaining, waiting for a buck to walk by. I have walked through snow that measured well past my knees with no complaints. I have found once I have proven myself equally capable to male hunters, I am not treated any differently. This different treatment isn’t done out of malicious intent. Instead, I believe it is an innate bias that takes time to overcome and change.
This bias continues when it comes to shooting big deer. In my experience, many men and women are shocked or surprised when I shoot a big animal. I enjoy hunting and will hold out for a nice buck rather than just shoot the first one that crosses my path. One time I experienced this situation was when I was mule deer hunting a few seasons ago. My dad, brother and I had all tagged out. One of us shot a rather large, non-typical and the other two shot nice typical mule deer. We loaded up the truck and drove to the closest town to get gas before heading home. At the gas station, two older gentlemen walked over to the truck after noticing the antlers in the box. Their first question was: “Which one of you boys shot the big one?”, pointing at the non-typical. My dad told them the big deer was mine, while proudly grinning and pointing at me. The look on both of those men’s faces told us they were a bit surprised to hear that not only had I shot that deer, but I had gotten a bigger one than either my dad or my brother. They both smiled at me after that and said congratulations when they recognized that girls can shoot big deer, too.
Some years I get the biggest deer of our group and other years I don’t. In the years where I get the biggest buck, my brother, dad and fiancé have all been bugged that I have gotten a bigger deer than they did. Other than normal sibling rivalry, my brother, dad and fiancé are all incredibly proud of the animals I shoot and will tell everyone that they don’t feel jealous.
Girls don’t want to be treated differently when they are out hunting; they want to be treated as an equal partner who is capable of doing everything everyone else can. It is way more fun for everyone when no one needs to worry about the capabilities of the others they are hunting with, whether that person is male or female.
Overall, I think the biases that come with being a female hunter are starting to be reduced as the number of women in hunting increases. With more women becoming involved, there are more role models to attract young girls to hunting. Even in the short 11 years that I have been hunting, I have felt and seen both other hunters and non-hunters who support the industry come to accept female hunters in the sport.
Yet, I still find that some people, both male and female, are shocked when they find out that I hunt and that I take part in the whole process. This includes the planning, contacting landowners for permission, sighting my gun, crawling through a field, pushing bush, shooting, retrieving the deer, field dressing and butchering. When I go hunting, I do not think about whether this would be a good hunt for a girl or if this is something a girl should do. Rather, my mind is focused on whether this is a good hunt for a hunter and whether this is something that as a hunter, I should do.